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As CBP pursues walls, migrant families moving crossings eastward to Sasabe

Migrant families are shifting their crossing points eastward as the Trump administration fortifies the border near Yuma. A group of 81 people, including families traveling with children, crossed the U.S.-Mexico border near Sasabe, Ariz., on Tuesday.

On Thursday afternoon, U.S. Customs and Border Protection published a video clip of the group on Twitter, which shows adults and children walking along a desert road as captured by an infrared surveillance camera. 

The group included small children, and one father was clearly holding a child's hand as they marched along the road. 

Officials said that it took Border Patrol agents "33-man-hours to transport and process the group" after they arrived at nearby forward operating base, and included both "family units" and unaccompanied minors, or children traveling without parents or guardians. 

In late August, Border Patrol said that agents had encountered three large groups of migrants — 98, 66, and 78 people — traveling in the same area, east of Sasabe about 60 miles southwest of Tucson. 

Just beyond Sasabe is the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge, a 117,000-acre wildlife refuge. The area around the port of entry at Sasabe, which sits at the end of Highway 286, is defended by about seven miles of 18-foot-high bollard fencing, as well as patrol roads. 

In recent months, Homeland Security officials disclosed plans to build new border barriers in the areas where families crossed into the United States and sought asylum, and by August, contractors began building 30-foot high "bollard" walls, including a two-mile section near Lukeville, Ariz. 

Overall, Homeland Security officials have said they will build 509 miles of walls, including 141 miles of new "primary" fencing, 68 miles of replacement fencing, and about 205 miles that will replace vehicle barriers. 

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This includes 38.6 miles along Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge and Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, 5.1 miles along Organ Pipe National Monument, and about 19.7 miles in Cochise County, including plans for a barrier over the San Pedro River in the state's San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area. 

The construction will be funded by $3.6 billion siphoned from the Defense Department's military construction budget, as well as $2.5 billion pulled from a fund meant for the Pentagon's counter-narcotics operations. 

Environmental groups have launched lawsuits against the transfer of money, and the administration's plans to build in the nation's wildlife refuges, but construction has moved forward, and the Defense Department said on Sept. 12 that another $440 million will be given to a Montana-based contractor for border wall projects. 

On Wednesday, as part of this pursuit, the Interior Department announced it was handing 560 acres of public land over to the U.S. Army for three years, allowing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to build border barriers on land that was once managed by the Bureau of Land Management, including parts of the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge. 

 This move follows the beginning of construction, first reported by TucsonSentinel.com, of two miles of border wall along the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. 

This includes a group of  325 people who arrived in the desert west of Lukeville in early February and included nearly 150 children. The last such large group entered the area on May 28, just as the number of people taken into custody spiked to nearly 133,000 people nationwide, with about 68 percent being either families or unaccompanied minors, according to statistics published by CBP.    

All three of the groups in August were comprised "mostly of Central American families," who surrendered to agents after crossing the border, said a Tucson Sector Border Patrol spokesman. 

The families are coming even as the Trump administration continues to pursue hard-nosed tactics intending to stop people from seeking asylum in the United States, including the Migrant Protection Protocols, which sends people back to Mexico while they pursue their asylum claims, as well as a series of "border courts" that are located near the border and have judges issue their decisions remotely, through video-conferencing systems. 

The Trump administration has also moved to have Border Patrol agents complete "credible fear" interviews, the first step in the process, where asylum seekers have to prove that they're reliably telling the truth and they fear returning to their home country.   

And, finally, the Trump administration has demanded that people seek asylum in the first country they reach, and if they continue onward—like nearly all Central Americans, who travel at least through Mexico before reaching the United States—their asylum claim can be denied. 

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"Tucson Sector Border Patrol has seen large groups of family units shift from the Lukeville area to Sasabe over the course of the summer," he said. "During the months of April and May, multiple groups of several hundred people surrendered to Border Patrol agents near Quitobaquito Springs west of Lukeville," he said. 

From September to May, especially large groups of families, began crossing into the United States west of Sasabe, near the Lukeville port of entry. Some groups arrived by chartered bus traveling along Mexico's Highway 2, and they walked across the border where anti-vehicle "normandy barriers" mark the border between the U.S. and Mexico. 

Overall, from October 1, 2018 to the end of August, Tucson Sector agents took into custody about 4,700 unaccompanied children and 14,264 people traveling as families. While the number of accompanied minors stayed steady from a year earlier, the number of families has nearly tripled. 

However, since the beginning of May, at least nine groups numbering 50 people or more began arriving in the more rugged and mountainous terrain east of Sasabe, and south of Arivaca, indicating a new shift in migration patterns in Arizona's southwestern desert. 

While families and unaccompanied minors drove national numbers in May, in the Tucson Sector, about 67 percent of the people taken into custody were single adults. However, in the neighboring Yuma Sector, just 11 percent of the people taken into custody by Border Patrol were single adults. 

By August, even as apprehension numbers crashed, about 42 percent of those apprehended in the Tucson Sector were families, while about 76 percent were families in the Yuma Sector. 

Nationwide about 57 percent of those taken into custody along the border where either children, or children traveling with their parents, according to agency statistics. 

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A screenshot from the video posted by U.S. Customs and Border Protection on Thursday.

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